It is available in most of the world, distributed via satellite, cable and IPTV. Its international reach is more than 200 million households and hotel rooms in over 200 countries. For most viewers it is free-to-air, however some pay TV companies include it in their pay TV bouquets, or issue a virtual channel to the FTA version gone the same satellite. In addition, it is free to watch online, when available, via CNN's webpage. Its main global competitor is BBC World News, which has around double CNN's international viewership and employs many more correspondents and reporters, as well as having more international bureaus.
The managing director of CNN International is Tony Maddox.
The network, in large part a result of Ted Turner's internationalist ideals, began transmissions in 1985, at first primarily broadcasting to American business travelers in hotels. The early studios in Atlanta were tucked away in various corners of the CNN Center, and the newsroom lacked even a digital clock. The vast majority of the network's programming originally consisted of simulcasts of the two domestic CNN channels (CNN/US and Headline News). In 1992, however, the amount of news programming produced by CNNI especially for international viewers increased significantly. A major new newsroom and studio complex was built in 1994, as CNN decided to compete against BBC World Service Television's news programming. CNNI emerged as an internationally oriented news channel, with staff members of various national backgrounds, even though some accusations of a pro-U.S. editorial bias persist. CNN International was awarded the Liberty Medal on July 4, 1997. Ted Turner, in accepting the medal on behalf of the network, said: "My idea was, we’re just going to give people the facts…We didn’t have to show liberty and democracy as good, and show socialism or totalitarianism as bad. If we just showed them both the way they were…clearly everybody’s going to choose liberty and democracy.
In 1998, creative director Morgan Almeida began slowly branding the network, starting with creating a series of channel idents which made its on-air look less overtly American and with a more "international" aesthetic. The network undertook a major rebranding effort in 2006 overseen by the award winning creative vision of Mark Wright. Gone are the brash multi-colored headlines and in place are sleek, modern lines with its un-cluttered screen and smart navigational design, the network is modern, bold and stands out in an over-crowded TV landscape. The re-brand was a true testament to the forward thinking and pioneering spirit CNN is known for. CNN is now the second most watched news channel in the world and is noted for its journalistic integrity, and its independent news agenda, free from the influence of governments, state broadcasting systems, narrow national agendas and mono-cultural viewpoints.
In the U.S., CNNI North America was distributed during overnights and weekends on the CNNfn financial channel, until that channel's demise in December 2004. It is now available in its own right on a limited basis, mostly as part of digital packages of cable operators including Time Warner Cable and Verizon FiOS.
The schedules of the different regional versions no longer differ significantly from each other, but there are still minor variations such as weather updates. The London and Hong Kong production centers produce 50 and 30 hours per week of programming respectively.
CNN International can now be watched free of charge at CNN.com on a part-time basis. During the breaks, headlines, market data and weather are shown.
Although dramatically scaled down since its early days, CNN/I draws from feed of the main CNN channel for Larry King Live although only the Friday edition is shown live - the rest of the week it is shown a few hours later, Late Edition, the 10.00 pm hour of Anderson Cooper 360°, the 6.00 pm hour of The Situation Room and some CNN Special Investigations Unit documentaries. CNN/I airs CNN/US newscasts whenever major events happen in the United States or, in some cases, around the world. An example of an event where CNN/I usually turns to CNN/US is during US general elections, including presidential debates and primaries. Also, in 2004 CNN/I turned to CNN/US programming during Ronald Reagan's death and funeral and again in 2007 after the shooting of 32 students at Virginia Tech University.
Likewise, CNN/US occasionally turns to CNN/I newscasts, primarily when major international news breaks during overnight hours in the US. A notable case was during the death of Pope John Paul II and the aftermath of the London Underground bombings of July 7, 2005. CNN/US simulcast CNNI coverage of the death of Pakistan's former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto on the night after her assassination took place.
Normally during 12pm-1pm EST on weekdays, CNN/I's Your World Today airs on CNN/US That program is currently being pre-empted by Issue #1, a domestic personal finance program dealing with topics regarding the American economic, financial, and housing sectors.
During the March 2008's Atlanta tornado outbreak, CNN/US and CNN/I simulcasted coverage for two hours after Anderson Cooper 360° ended. That coverage ended around 12:40am EDT and the stations resumed their normal programming. The next day, with storms impending, CNN/US had to move onto CNN/I's US news set and weather center to avoid water from possible flooding during the storms.
For rights reasons, CNNI typically cannot show the same sports highlights as CNN/US and Headline News. As such, its bulletins and on-air talent are entirely separate from the domestic operation..
Since CNN/US began suffering a decline in viewership due to competition from Fox News Channel, CNN as a whole (including CNN International) has been accused by, among others, its own Christiane Amanpour, of catering to American jingoism at the expense of more balanced international coverage. Former CNN Beijing and Tokyo bureau chief Rebecca MacKinnon described how the news-gathering priorities of CNN International were skewed to "produce stories and reports that would be of interest to CNN USA." Nevertheless, Jane Arraf, a former correspondent who was with the Council on Foreign Relations and is now a correspondent for NBC News based in Baghdad, noted that when she spoke on international affairs, CNN International would usually give her more airtime than CNN/US. For its own part, CNN executive Eason Jordan has defended CNN International's "international" perspective, saying "No matter what CNN International does, as long as CNN's headquarters is in the United States people are going to say, well, it's an American service. But the reality is that it's an international service based in the United States, and we don't make any apologies about that."